“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.” –Henry Ward Beecher
Mizuki Usami is a member of her middle school’s art club, and although she’s devoted to her craft, she struggles to handle her fellow club member, Subaru Uchimaki: although a talented artist in his own right, Subaru is more interested in producing anime drawings rather than conventional art. In spite of this, Mizuki holds feelings for Subaru and struggles to express herself; she manages to convince Subaru to stay in the art club. Later, Colette joins the art club after Subaru helps her in searching for a locket, and instructor Yumeko Tachibana takes up the role as the art club’s advisor. The art club’s everyday life is characterised by chaos and heartwarming moments: from Colette creating a bit of a ruckus after doodling on one of the model heads, to a fellow classmate botching a kokuhaku with Subaru and Mizuki encouraging Subaru in entering a contest after a classmate disparages his work, life in the art club settles into a familiar and comfortable pattern. Maria Imari transfers into their school shortly after, and quickly bonds with Subaru over their common interests, to Mizuki’s displeasure. Despite her chūnibyō tendencies, Maria gets along with everyone, including Colette, who sees her as a master of sorts, and even Mizuki finds that Maria is probably no threat to the status quo, since Subaru appears interested only in fictional characters. The three share more adventures together and even go on a treasure hunt the previous art club left behind, only to find it was an adult magazine. This magazine would later cause the art club some trouble. Later, the art club’s president encounters Moeka, a little girl who’s arrived to find her grandfather: Yukio Koyama, the art club’s former advisor. Outside of their club activities, the art club’s members still must deal with exams: Mizuki and the president are decent students, but it turns out that Subaru and Colette have failed, pushing Mizuki to suggest a home study session. With her help, both pass and are ready to take on the school’s culture festival. With help from Yumeko, the art club prepare a tin can exhibit; despite suffering from setbacks, the art club manages to produce a work in time for the festival. On a rainy day, one of Mizuki’s friends, Kaori, arranges for Subaru to accompany Mizuki home. Later, Mizuki overhears Subaru asking Maria about how to make his feelings for someone whose traits resembles Mizuki’s. Certain it must be her, Mizuki attempts to do a kokuhaku, only to discover Subaru’s referring to an anime character who shares her surname. Although relieved that the status quo at the art club seems to be maintained, she promises to do her best in the future, too. With this, I’ve crossed the finish line for This Art Club Has a Problem! (Kono Bijutsubu ni wa Mondai ga Aru), an anime I was given a recommendation to watch.
Standing in contrast with the usual gamut of slice-of-life anime I typically watch and write about, This Art Club Has a Problem! represents a departure in that this anime is purely comedy-driven. There isn’t an overarching theme, a goal that unifies the episodes or a lesson to be learnt; instead, each episode consists of several, loosely-related vignettes that showcase Mizuki’s everyday life as a member of the art club, and some of the misadventures she goes on as a result of her involvement with some zany, but authentic individuals. Some of these misadventures are particularly well-written: when Colette doodles on a model head and hides it in a box to evade trouble, Yumeko stumbles upon it and faints, leading Subaru to try and revive her while Mizuki fetches help. However, the club president misinterprets the situation, reports it to Mizuki, who goes wild at the thought of Subaru doing mouth-to-mouth with Yumeko, resulting in catharsis. In another moment, after a treasure hunt finds an adult magazine on school grounds, this seemingly-irrelevant object creates trouble for the art club as Subaru and Mizuki try to smuggle it off campus for disposal. Ironically, Maria and Colette were on the search for a grimoire, and Yumeko coincidentally mispronounces the grimoire’s name as being the same title as the adult magazine. When two differing objectives converge, Subaru ends up taking the hit for things, releasing the tension from the moment. In both cases, a comedy of errors is used to create a build-up in tension, culminating in a dawning of comprehension that drives much of the humour. This is where This Art Club Has a Problem! excels, although smaller moments from character dynamics, especially Mizuki’s tsundere traits and the resulting misunderstandings, also allow This Art Club Has a Problem! to elicit laughs during quieter moments. This Art Club Has a Problem! demonstrates how universal elements of comedy (namely, dramatic irony, timing and subversion of expectations) can be successfully utilised in anime without becoming stale. In previous years, it was asserted that works driven by meta-humour were better received critically because self-referential humour was intelligent and demanded that viewers think to get the joke. This is untrue: if one needed possess a modicum of background to understand obscure cultural references or self-awareness, a work has failed in delivering comedy. This sort of thing is something that Steven Chow understood: his movies are universally regarded as excellent examples of comedy because they employ methods that are universally appreciated, making use of timing and subversion of expectations to create absurdity. To enjoy a Steven Chow film, one needn’t have a profound knowledge of Chinese culture. Similarly, here in This Art Club Has a Problem!, the anime is able to convey humour effectively because it utilises means that are universally understood.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Known as Konobi! in short, This Art Club Has a Problem! is a series that was recommended to me not too long ago. Unfortunately for me, I’ve long forgotten who made this recommendation, but on the flipside, I did get around to watching and writing about this show. The main reason why I took up this recommendation was because I’d already had one anime about an art club in the books, Sketchbook, and I was curious to see how This Art Club Has a Problem! proceeds. Right out of the gates, viewers are introduced to Mizuki Usami, who shares a family name with Locodol‘s Nanako Usami and resembles Uma Musume Pretty Derby‘s Special Week.
- With a love for the arts and a fiery personality, Mizuki is voiced by Ari Ozawa, whom I know best as Kurumi Ebisuzawa of Gakkō Gurashi, Himena Tokikawa of Yakunara Mug Cup Mo, YU-NO‘s Yuno and Nozomi Moritomo of The Rolling Girls. Her first act in This Art Club Has a Problem! is punching out one of Subaru Uchimaki’s works in frustration, and the first episode is appropriately-named: “these people have problems”. However, these problems are not derogatory, and it is the case that this particular art club has its share of issues.
- Half of Mizuki’s problems come from Subaru’s enjoyment for drawing manga characters, and whenever she’s asked to model for him, Subaru invariably renders her as something else: in fact, the only detail he bothers to keep true-to-life are Mizuki’s pantsu, to her great embarrassment. However, whenever accidents befall the art club, Mizuki puts her own embarassment aside for the club’s sake. Early on, after destroying Mizuki’s competition piece by mistake, Subaru and the club president do what they can to distract her. When Mizuki learns the truth, she forces Subaru to submit one of his works as a replacement, and this ends up winning second place, to everyone’s surprise.
- Colette is introduced into This Art Club Has a Problem! shortly after. She has a similar role to Sketchbook‘s Kate, a foreign student, but unlike Kate, who’s Canadian and relatively new to Japan, Colette’s lived in Japan for several years and has no misunderstandings about Japanese culture. In manner and personality, Colette is a cross between Kiniro Mosaic‘s Karen and Hitori Bocchi‘s Sonoka. Character archetypes are often counted as dull or boring, but they serve an important purpose, giving viewers familiar characters so they can focus on how everyone bounces off one another in different contexts.
- Mizuki’s friends swing by the art club one day to visit: her feelings for Subaru are a badly-kept secret, and they often intervene to bring the two closer together. From left to right, we’ve got Sayaka (a member of the news club), Kaori (who resembles Rifle is Beautiful‘s Hikari and The Quintessential Quintuplets’s Yotsuba) and Ryōko (a tall girl with glasses and similar vibes as K-On!‘s Nodoka). Here, Kaori challenges everyone to a drawing contest to see who can do the best job, with the loser having to buy everyone else drinks. Kaori ends up getting defeated, creating a scenario where Mizuki shares an indirect kiss with Subaru by means of a drink can.
- Yumeko is introduced as the art club’s new advisor: she’s a cross between Locodol‘s Saori, GochiUsa‘s Mocha, Saori of Girls und Panzer and Dropout Idol Fruit Tart‘s Hoho, being clumsy and inexperienced, but also kind-hearted and willing to go the extra mile for her students. On her first day, she ends up observing the students, and typically leaves everyone to their own devices: Mizuki is responsible and can be counted upon to work on her art for competitions, while Subaru also produces a good amount of competition-worthy pieces despite being present only to draw manga characters.
- Although This Art Club Has a Problem! begins in a slower manner, what kicked things up a notch was a comedy of errors that resulted from Colette defacing one of the model heads. When she conceals this in a box to avoid Mizuki’s wrath, she inadvertently knocks out Yumeko, who thought it was a real head. Spotting this prompts Mizuki and Subaru to seek out another instructor for help: while Mizuki finds another faculty member, Subaru grapples with the idea of resuscitating Yumeko via mouth-to-mouth. The club president misunderstands this and hastens to tell Mizuki. The build-up and timing of everything is worthy of Bill Watterson, and from here on out, I became more appreciative of the jokes in This Art Club Has a Problem!.
- Aside from more intricate jokes that depend on timing and context, This Art Club Has a Problem! also falls upon more conventional jokes: after a bad draw leaves the art club to clean up the school pool, Mizuki and the others take on the task. However, true to the art club’s approach, they end up bringing some paints and make art of Subaru’s choosing. While everyone else has already changed, Yumeko struggles to fit into her swimsuit. Yumeko provides all of the t n’ a in This Art Club Has a Problem!: the opening sequence even has her posing suggestively, and throughout the show, Yumeko’s figure gives her no shortage of trouble.
- Beyond this, This Art Club Has a Problem! is very disciplined, capitalising on its time to create jokes based around the art club’s misadventures, which result from carelessness for the most part. Here, it turns out the president’s picked up the kind of paint that’s water insoluble: there’s now no way to remove the mermaid everyone’s drawn in the pool. The president is on the hook for this, and chooses to evade responsibility by putting on the same mask Colette had worn earlier. Non sequitur humour is common in This Art Club Has a Problem!, similarly to how Sketchbook and Non Non Biyori operated.
- Compared to Sketchbook, which had a very large cast and a busy art club, This Art Club Has a Problem! rolls things back: Colette is only a nominal member of the art club, and the president prefers to sleep rather than participate, leaving only Mizuki and Subaru to do related activities. When Maria Imari transfers into their school, a part of me had hoped that she would join the art club, too; she takes an interest in Subaru after learning they both share the same hobbies, and immediately get along, causing Mizuki no shortage of trouble.
- Her chūnibyō tendencies notwithstanding, Maria is actually quite social and quite astute when it comes to people: she quickly spots that Mizuki’s got a crush on Subaru, and is able to elicit a response when she takes his arm. Originally, this outing had been just for Mizuki: she’d been wanting to get a new bag charm since her old one fell apart, and had been hoping to spend some time alone with Subaru. Mizuki is constantly torn between getting closer to Subaru and trying to conceal her feelings for him to others. At the bookstore, Maria’s antics cause the clerk to inwardly wish this rowdy bunch of students would hit the bricks.
- On their way back home, Subaru, Mizuki and Maria encounter a tearful child: it turns out his balloon’s caught in a tree, and, unable to reach it, Subaru suggests piggy-backing to increase their reach. Mizuki initially hesitates, but when Maria offers to do so, Mizuki comes around. Mizuki’s been dreaming of such a moment and wishes Subaru would compliment on how light she is, but when he states the opposite, she presses her thighs together against his face in displeasure. In the end, this is unsyccessful: Mizuki is a few inches short, and it takes a jump from Maria to retrieve the balloon from the tree. She returns it to the boy, but loses herself in another soliquay that causes the boy to very nearly lose the balloon again.
- Although This Art Club Has a Problem! has the characters refer to one another by their family names, I refer to everyone by their given names for simplicity’s sake, and here, I will jokingly remark that Subaru’s name, when rendered in colloquial Cantonese, is “掃把佬” (jyutping sou3 baa2 lou2, literally “broom guy”). In This Art Club Has a Problem!, Subaru’s name is rendered purely in hiragana, and as such, there is no hanzi equivalent to draw a pronunciation from. Here, Subaru and Mizuki are faced with a competitor who apparently knows art theory but lacks the practical skills to back it up.
- Subaru isn’t particularly bothered, but Mizuki is left indigniant and declares that Subaru will kick his ass. To this end, Mizuki ends up helping Subaru in the competition and even models for him. The competitor remains unnamed, speaking to his insignificance in the context of This Art Club Has a Problem!, and I further see this character as a satire of folks who act high and mighty even though their knowledge of a topic is theoretical. This happens quite often in anime discussions, where some folks take it upon themselves to endlessly (and incorrectly) analyse minutiae in anime without understanding the topic, or the context behind why a particular detail was presented.
- Fans who care excessively about the theory and whether or not an anime’s portrayal of real-world details is plausible tend to both miss out on the main messages a work strives to convey, and alienate themselves from other parts of the community. This is mirrored in This Art Club Has a Problem!, where the competitor gets wiped and Subaru wins first place. To add insult to injury, it turns out the competitor’s submission didn’t even make it to the stage where it could be featured, and he is promptly forgotten.
- While in search of another model head, Subaru and Mizuki venture into the unused room next door, but because said room has a faulty sliding door, the pair become trapped in the room. Mizuki’s imagination goes into overdrive, and despite Subaru’s efforts to try and get them out, they are initially unsuccessful. When he attempts using a pocket light to catch the attention of a patrolling instructor, Subaru only succeeds in scaring the living daylights out of Yumeko, who promptly faints. However, when Subaru and Mizuki find some old photographs of the art club’s previous members, they spot another door that leads back to their clubroom. With this, they are able to escape the room.
- When exams draw close, Mizuki begins studying in earnest, but quickly becomes distracted after hearing Maria and Subaru laughing in the now-open storeroom: they’re leafing through manga volumes the previous art club’s members have left behind. She orders the pair to be more respectful, but the resulting silence similarly bothers her. Despite being a straight-laced student, Mizuki is still prone to childishness from time to time, and worried that Maria will take Subaru from her, Mizuki decides to call a break. This coincides with their finding of a treasure map that was clandestinely left in the manga.
- Maria’s knowledge of manga is extensive, but she’s unfamiliar with art. Since the treasure map was meant to be for art students, it takes Mizuki’s help to actually locate the prize, which is located on school grounds. Upon reaching the final spot on the map, expectations are high as Maria, Mizuki and Subaru dig for the treasure. To their great disappointment, they find an adult magazine inside the treasure box. Too embarrassed for words, Mizuki closes the box and promise to never speak of this moment again. However, in keeping with This Art Club Has a Problem!‘s approach for humour, the adult magazine promptly returns in the next episode.
- This time, said adult magazine lies at the heart of a multi-directional misunderstanding between Subaru, the club president, Yumeko, Maria, Colette and Mizuki: the comedy of errors leading up to the final release was masterful, with every little event adding to the moment where Yumeko would ultimately take Subaru to the woodshed for possessing the magazine. Originally, the president had planned to dispose of it, but was reluctant to allow Subaru to do so when he’d offered to take it off-campus. I suppose now is a good time as any to remark that Nao Tōyama voices Maria: Tōyama has a leading role in a large number of the shows I watch (Yuru Camp△‘s Rin and Karen of Kiniro Mosaic immediately come to mind).
- Later, the competitor attempts to start a rematch with Subaru, and this time, the challenge will be to see who can do a better rendering of Mizuki. Incensed by Subaru’s propensity to modify her, Mizuki roots for the competitor, causing his heart to flutter, and the pressure eventually leads him to fail, leaving Subaru to win by default. Mizuki is, aside from her tsundere traits, an ordinary character in every respect, and her frustrations would likely parallel those of how an ordinary individual might deal with the antics within a fictional world.
- While the president is cutting class, he encounters Moeka, a four-year-old girl who had previously run into Mizuki and Subaru. It turns out Moeka has a fondness for visual arts and often wanders off on her own to visit her grandfather, who happens to be the art club’s former advisor. It is lucky that Moeka’s misadventures don’t result in much trouble, although her mother does eventually become frustrated enough at Moeka’s treks as to purchase a walking rope to keep Moeka in arm’s reach at all times. After her grandfather scolds her for running off again, he admires the work she’s created and hopes that one day, she can also join an art club.
- Whereas Mizuki had totally pwned her exams (even going on a treasure hunt isn’t enough to throw her off her game), Subaru and Colette end up getting sucked into an anime and neglect their studies, causing them to fail their exams. Yumeko can actually be quite strict when the moment calls for it, and she prohibits the pair from club activities until they pass their make-up exams. To help them out, Mizuki suggests that they hit the books at her place. The study session does end up being fruitful: Subaru pushes himself to the limits to ensure he passes, and even Colette is putting her nose to the grindstone.
- An ordinary study session such as this is par the course for what would happen in reality, but since This Art Club Has a Problem! is a comedy, something was bound to happen. Subaru becomes exhausted and asks to crash on Mizuki’s bed, and she consents. However, when Colette disappears, Mizuki is outraged to find her sleeping beside Subaru. In the end, both Subaru and Colette pass their exams: in this case, simply getting distracted was what caused both to initially fail, suggesting that both are reasonably competent students otherwise. In anime with a school setting, I’ve found that series with a particular focus will have characters that tend to perform well enough so that the story can focus on their activities.
- When Kaori grows suspicious that Maria is trying to take Subaru away from Mizuki, she performs some fieldcraft that is so atrocious that John Clark and Domingo Chavez would roll their eyes. She tries to tail Maria, ends up being burnt and makes no attempt to hold a conversation with Maria. However, she does learn that Maria is genuine, and after listening to Maria speak, concludes that Mizuki’s going to be fine. Kaori is voiced by Sora Tokui, a voice actress I know best as GochiUsa‘s Maya. Hints of Maya are heard in Kaori’s voice: of Mizuki’s friends, she’s the most energetic
- This Art Club Has a Problem!‘s episodes portray a self-contained story, and while aspects from previous episodes make their way into later episodes, events are given enough separation so that each episode can comfortably fit each story without running over. When their school’s culture festival arrives, Yumeko is filled with a desire to do something for the art club and suggests they do tin-can art to improve their visibility. Everyone’s initially reluctant, since the art club’s focus is more about competition, and since everyone’s also involved with their class’ projects, but seeing how spirited Yumeko is encourages everyone to participate.
- The process towards building their sculpture, one of Mizuki’s design since it ends up representing the art club, is a difficult one: all of the cans collected must be washed and processed, which tires out the president. Although they begin amassing a decent number of cans, miscommunication results in most of their prepared cans being discarded. The instructor responsible profusely apologises, and with time running out, it seems that the art club won’t make the deadline. However, Subaru reasons that since the theme is using cans from their school, things should be okay as long as the drinks were enjoyed by students. To this end, the art club arranges for a drink rally, and with Maria in their corner, the event is a success.
- The music in This Art Club Has a Problem! was actually something I found immensely enjoyable. Much as how Sketchbook made extensive use of piano to create a warm, nostalgic tone, This Art Club Has a Problem! also utilises piano to create a sense of melancholy, speaking to Mizuki’s yearning for Subaru to realise she has feelings for him. The incidental music in This Art Club Has a Problem! is varied, with light-hearted pieces complementing the more wistful songs, and this comes together to bring This Art Club Has a Problem! to life.
- I ended up finishing This Art Club Has a Problem! last Saturday: having now settled into my new routine, I watch anime during lunch break, and on days where I work from home (but don’t lift weights), I can actually get an episode in before my day starts. This has allowed me to move through series at a much higher rate than before, and in this way, I wrapped up This Art Club Has a Problem! very quickly. I am glad to have finished this series: the reason This Art Club Has a Problem! slipped past my radar was because it aired during the summer of 2016, which had been when New Game! was airing.
- At this point, I’d just finished my thesis defense and had returned home from my Cancún conference to begin my first job at a start-up. I had precious little time for anime, but going through This Art Club Has a Problem!, the art and animation have aged gracefully. Together with its emphasis on humour, and a cast that ends up being very lovable, endearing, I’ve no issues in giving this series a B grade (3.0 of 4.0, or 7.5 on a 10-point scale). Watching the characters bounce off one another and still succeed in their aims shows how despite shortcomings people might have, when their positive traits are allowed to shine, they can accomplish great things nonetheless. For Mizuki and the art club, it means finishing their sculpture on time to display it at their school’s cultural festival.
- The finale feels more like a dénouement: on a rainy day, Mizuki becomes annoyed when Kaori takes her umbrella, but it turns out this had been a play to get Mizuki closer to him. Although this brings the pair close to a kokuhaku, a misunderstanding defuses things. In a bit of irony, a massive rainfall begun yesterday afternoon and lasted through most of today, bringing 75 mm of rain to the area. While a local state of emergency was declared, meteorologists are suggesting we should be spared of the flooding that ravaged the area nine years earlier. The rain came right as my parents dropped by with a surprise yesterday; they had managed to pick up roast goose from the restaurant downstairs, along with salted egg prawns, a delicious cabbage dish and sweet and sour pork. Goose is normally sold in limited quantities, and it’s a far leaner meat than duck. Today, the rain was joined by 90 km/h wind gusts, although the storm’s supposed lighten up by tomorrow. With This Art Club Has a Problem! in the books, I’ll be looking at Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island this coming weekend.
In a manner of speaking, This Art Club Has a Problem! is a modernised presentation of 2007’s Sketchbook: like Sketchbook, This Art Club Has a Problem! sees limited character development. Sora spends her day finding new things to draw and deals with the antics surrounding her art club, much as how Mizuki struggles to make her way in a club that only appears tangentially interested in art. However, while there’s no overarching story, no singular objective that the respective art clubs in Sketchbook and This Art Club Has a Problem! strive to achieve, humour underlies both series to showcase how colourful the world of young artists can be: in trying to capture the world on physical media, artists are attuned to things that others might miss, and as a result, are able to experience moments that are spectacular as they pursue their creations. This was particularly prominent in Sketchbook, which had been a relaxing and soothing series. This Art Club Has a Problem!, on the other hand, emphasises the humour resulting from Mizuki’s constant struggle in trying to deal with her feelings for Subaru. While this makes This Art Club Has a Problem! more rambunctious, the experience resulting from working towards an artistic piece is no less significant: Mizuki and Subaru work together to submit a piece for a competition to prove a classmate wrong about Subaru’s work, and the art club ends up building a tin can sculpture together for the culture festival, which allows them to elevate the art club’s prominance and do more around their school, as well. Both Sketchbook and This Art Club Has a Problem! emphasise different aspects of being in an art club: Sketchbook is more introspective and thoughtful, while This Art Club Has a Problem! is more boisterous and in a seemingly contradictory fashion, more melancholy, as well. Romance was not a significant part of Sketchbook, but in This Art Club Has a Problem!, Mizuki’s pursuit of Subaru’s heart is subtly hinted at through things like lighting and incidental music. The emphasis on the rowdiness is a world apart from the laid-back tone of Sketchbook, speaking to a shift in aesthetics in the nine-year gap between Sketchbook and This Art Club Has a Problem!, showing both how even something as quiet as an art club can have excitement, as well as providing an answer for what Sketchbook would’ve looked like had it been produced more recently.